A written piece delayed due to the affliction of procrastination 😭.
Procrastination is the undesirable habit of postponing important and time-bound tasks.
Procrastinatory behavior is not uniform; not all procrastination is classified as procrastination syndrome. Procrastination behavior can be categorized into two types: proactive procrastination and passive procrastination.
Proactive procrastination represents adaptive procrastination, where individuals deliberately delay to make well-considered decisions. Some people thrive under pressure, consciously delaying tasks and accomplishing them promptly, resulting in satisfaction. Some tasks may lack motivation, postponed until the last moment, thereby attaining higher efficiency due to the pressure of deadlines.
Passive procrastination refers to conventional procrastination syndrome, where individuals fail to complete tasks on time due to various reasons such as the desire to evade pressure, anxiety about failure, or excessive pursuit of perfection. This article primarily addresses passive procrastination.
Professor Piers Steel from the University of Calgary in Canada once proposed a renowned “procrastination equation”:
U = EV / ID
The ability to conquer procrastination = (confidence expectancy * task value perception) / (impulsiveness * delay of rewards)
From this equation, it is apparent that the more information one has about a task and the higher its perceived value, the less likely it is to be postponed. Conversely, stronger impulsiveness or longer reward delays increase the likelihood of procrastination.
In general, complex tasks hold higher value but come with extended completion periods, frequent distractions, and delayed rewards, making them susceptible to procrastination. Conversely, simpler, routine tasks are less prone to procrastination.
People tend to postpone completing tasks they find unpleasant, challenging, or emotionally taxing in favor of simpler, less demanding tasks.
This type of procrastination is tied to task deadlines. Keep in mind that all work is organized around schedules, workflows, and deadlines. However, if only the final deadline looms, trouble may arise, as humans tend to avoid tasks that appear complex, vague, or unclear in their prospects.
This type of procrastination often pertains to personal life. Personal affairs typically lack distinct initiation deadlines and may not appear to involve procrastination, but they are often the largest source of procrastination. Personal plans tend to be idealized, lacking external supervision pressure and having low abandonment costs. Thus, the “urgent-important” framework for time management is an effective method.
Simple procrastination is inaction – resistance or withdrawal when a task feels uncomfortable or unpleasant. This type of procrastination arises from momentary hesitation, triggering an automatic procrastination response.
Complex procrastination encompasses multiple factors, often accompanied by self-doubt or perfectionism. The subsequent section on “Procrastination Thinking” will delve into this in detail.
Procrastination thinking involves mentally diverting oneself, a form of cognitive diversion, to evade pressing matters and opt for seemingly safer paths.
Under this mindset, you often set conditions for completing a task, allowing for its postponement. However, these conditions are typically trivial and inconsequential. For instance, aspiring to obtain an MBA degree, but requiring comprehensive knowledge of all MBA-related information before making a decision, leads to endless delays, and the application deadline may have already passed.
You constantly tell yourself that you must understand the reasons for your procrastination to ultimately overcome it. For example, you believe that embarking on an archaeological expedition to unravel deep-rooted issues is a prerequisite for breaking free from procrastination. However, this reason serves as an excellent excuse for procrastination, despite the absence of any causal relationship between the two.
Suppose you’re a procurement officer, and your boss asks you to negotiate lower procurement costs with suppliers, but you lack confidence and enthusiasm for the task. Consequently, you tell yourself and others that your boss’s request is far-fetched. This attitude results in less-than-enthusiastic efforts, leading to an unsuccessful outcome.
“If I could devise a perfect plan, things wouldn’t be like this.”
In reality, this is a psychological defense mechanism where we release our disappointment and frustration through fantasies, compensating for wounded self-esteem. This can make you feel worse.
“If I hadn’t procrastinated and followed the plan, the results would be better now. My current situation is entirely due to procrastination.”
To avoid the risks of task failure and criticism from society and others, procrastination becomes a temporary means of self-worth protection.
- Perfect Timing: “I have one more minor task to complete; without it, I cannot begin the important task at hand.”
The pursuit of perfection in approaching an ideal state results in a geometric increase in resource consumption, both cognitive and material. This increased cost of approaching perfection can lead to frustration. Perfectionists may fear the consumption of resources and, based on an “economic” principle, abandon action.
- Perfect Planning: “I must create a perfect plan before taking action; the wrong direction might lead to abandonment of previous efforts.”
If the plan falls short or expectations are unmet, perfectionists may think, “How can I complete the task now?” This leads to intense anxiety and a lack of motivation to continue the task. However, because the ideal state is elusive and not the norm, procrastination sufferers find it difficult to sustain action, often giving up midway.
- Perfect Execution: “I must reach my best state to achieve the best results and demonstrate my abilities.”
If we continue to demand perfection from ourselves based on an idealized state, the gap between ideal and reality can cause profound frustration. Ultimately, to preserve self-esteem and the ideal self-image, we may resist accepting our shortcomings, attributing failures to external factors, such as inadequate planning or suboptimal conditions.
Perfectionists often hold exceedingly high expectations for tasks they undertake. These lofty expectations can easily lead to frustration, and frustration itself generates feelings of self-doubt. When this process, characterized by “high expectations → action → frustration → self-doubt,” is continually reinforced, avoidance mechanisms emerge.
Reconstruct your perception of your behavior, recognizing signs of procrastination.
Develop vigilance and sensitivity toward your own thoughts. Reevaluate your thoughts to clarify your objectives, continuously self-regulating to enhance efficient behavior. In the procrastination mode, you must be adept at recognizing the type of pressure you are experiencing and conduct assessments.
Actively test your new ideas, reflecting on the positive outcomes they produce during your pursuit of positive results. For instance, when you feel a momentary urge to divert your focus while performing a task, persevere for five minutes to observe the results.
Adjustment is a part of cognitive integration. In this phase, procrastination and efficiency are in conflict, with you navigating between the two. For example, when torn between “doing it tomorrow” and “taking immediate action,” you can compare the benefits of both approaches, assess why you are delaying, and examine which excuses and justifications offer you the most. Employ mindfulness techniques to focus on your feelings.
Accept the reality of the present rather than the idealized version. Embrace self-acceptance to enhance your resilience. If you procrastinated, it’s a fact. What actions can you take to improve yourself? What have you learned from the experience?
This process is akin to peak experiences. If you were to start your life anew, what crucial actions would you take? Could you overcome procrastination? Adjust your thoughts and behaviors – what improvements do you observe when you conquer procrastination?
After recognizing procrastination behavior, change your perspective by comparing the differences between “procrastination” and “non-procrastination” behavior.
- A (aversive or activating), the triggering event.
- B (believe), the beliefs formed after encountering the triggering event: views, interpretations, evaluations. Procrastination belief is “I’ll do it tomorrow,” while a rational belief would be “take immediate action.”
- C (consequences), the outcomes in specific situations. Under the “do it tomorrow” mindset, the imminent unpleasant task is inevitably postponed.
- D (disputing), intervention to counter procrastination thinking, using contrasting ideas to reevaluate the situation, replacing original thoughts. Use the “take immediate action” mindset to counter the “do it tomorrow” procrastination mindset.
- E (effect), the benefits resulting from countering procrastination thinking. Make a clear choice by comparing the outcomes of “take immediate action” and “do it tomorrow.”
Overcoming procrastination is contrary to human nature. During the transformation, emotional control is essential to build resilience and perseverance. Even in uncomfortable environments, maintain steadfast progress.
- P (pause), take a pause, listen to your inner voice, acknowledge the thought of procrastination.
- U (use), employ intervention methods to prevent distraction.
- R (reflect), ponder and deeply feel the present moment.
- R (reason), analyze and compare the long-term and short-term benefits of procrastination and immediate action to overcome procrastination thinking.
- R (respond), choose beneficial behavior based on the gathered information.
- R (review and revise), engage in self-reflection.
- S (stabilize), continuously consolidate.
- Self-Doubt: Examine yourself from various angles, reasonably assess your capabilities, and view uncertainty rationally.
- Perfectionism: Adopt a diversified approach, avoid black-and-white self-expectations, follow natural laws, and avoid pushing yourself to do the impossible.
- Fear of Criticism: Don’t compel yourself to please everyone or avoid disappointing others; you cannot get along with everyone.
- Fear of Failure: Approach failure rationally; who cares about failure, and how significant are the consequences?
Determine your direction, implement actions, and enhance task efficiency.
In general, outcomes are primarily determined by a few critical factors. Identify these factors for quick and effective decision-making. For instance, you can prioritize your tasks using the urgent-important matrix.
I ask myself this question every day: Is what I am currently doing the most crucial task I can perform? Only when I receive an affirmative answer do I feel content, knowing that my time and energy are not in vain.
Done is better than perfect.
You need to confront your subconscious demand for error-free decisions, accepting uncertainty. Collect information and make an effort to assist in making a rational decision and taking the first step.
You refuse to plant a seed, claiming that you can’t bear to watch it wither bit by bit. Yes, to avoid closure, you evade initiation entirely.
Execute your plan and follow through with your tasks as planned.
In the process of setting goals and striving for them, he realized he wasn’t perfect. However, without accepting the challenge, he wouldn’t have improved as much as he did later.
Overall, conquering procrastination involves restructuring your cognitive perception of behavior, recognizing procrastinatory actions, changing the ingrained habits of procrastination thinking, managing emotions to facilitate the transition, determining the course of action, and implementing it effectively.
This article primarily emphasizes establishing a proper understanding of procrastination. As for the final stage of “implementing action,” it is an independent topic that could be explored in detail separately. Thus, it has been briefly discussed here, providing a broad framework.
Considering that numerous books have already covered this topic, further elaboration is unnecessary. However, I recommend two relevant books: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Getting Things Done.
For more information on procrastination, you can visit the “Douban Procrastination Group” for additional insights: We Are All Procrastinators.
Lastly, here’s a TED talk on procrastination: Do You Procrastinate?.